Syrian opposition councils and attempts to unify ranks

The 'Local Coordination Committees' is a body that aims to organise and plan events on the ground within local communities

At times it can be difficult to follow the many conferences, meetings and bodies formed by opposition factions. Within Syria there is a Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), Local Coordination Committees (LCC) and Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union. All these bodies are broader groups seeking to better organise local activist committees.

Outside Syria, the newly established ‘National Council of Syria‘, emerging from a meeting in Istanbul, does not portray itself as a transitional council or representative of Syrians. The broad goals, according to its Yasser Tabbara, the head of the council, is an effort to bring “together all sorts of different factions of the Syrian opposition and the pro-democracy movement inside and outside of Syria”.

In response to whether the council is a government-in-waiting, he responds:

no it’s not, and this is something that we’ve been very careful and very clear about from the very beginning. This is a step. This is the first step that would take us in the direction of establishing a body that truly speaks on behalf of the Syrian people inside.

As for the relation of the council to anti-regime activists within Syria:

The number one priority of this council is to support the revolution to topple the regime. Obviously that includes an immediate halt of the killing of innocent civilians and the bloodshed that has been taking place since March 15th. That also includes peaceful transition into a democratic, pluralistic Syria.

Other than this council, there is a recently announced transitional council, containing 94 members, that was first declared without the consent of its proposed head (Burhan Ghalioun) and many of its members. However, many of those announced seem to have later agreed on the necessity of this body, while other proposed members have been lukewarm or outright opposed to the idea. Burhan Ghalioun, though not participant in the initial meeting in Ankara, has agreed to the idea but states it requires better coordination. Hence Ghalioun calls on all anti-regime factions to work together to further develop the idea and to coordinate to establish a united transitional council, to lead the revolution and unite all its disparate factions. Ghalioun envisages this transitional council in similar terms to its Libyan counterpart [not merely assiting the ‘revolution’ but an actual representative body] and for it to develop relations with Arab, regional and international states. The broader objective of this transitional council are stated as follows:

It aims to lead the political movement, and regulates the relations of the revolution at home and abroad, and contributes to the development of strategic options and in making crucial decisions

Burhan Ghalioun calls for developing a transitional council that regulates the relations of the revolution at home and abroad, and contributes to the development of strategic options and making crucial decisions

Haitham al-Manna, on the other hand, has noted strong objections to a proposed transitional council, especially if hurried. This sudden hurry is indicative of what he suspects to be an external meddling and an attempted co-opting of the uprising for certain regional gains. Specifically he identifies the Gulf countries and the US administration as behind this push, as they seek , in Al-Manna’s terms, a revolution by proxy. Al-Manna’s assessment is likely accurate, considering the US has now turned on Bashar al-Assad and suddenly signalled the need for better engagement with the opposition, including developing a united front for that purpose.

Another body, withinSyria, confusingly naming itself the ‘Syrian National Coordination Committee’ (NCC) are working to organise a conference to be held in Damascus itself. One of its leading members (Hassan Abdel Azim) states the conference’s  goal as “working tirelessly to involve the remaining alliances, parties, and opposition groups who were absent from the first conference. This way, they will have a position, a presence and interactions with us — all in order to unite the opposition forces together”.

Finally, the SRGC, seemingly the largest umbrella group for activists within Syria, have announced the formation of  a new ‘Revolutionary Council of the Syrian Revolution’. The SRGC envisages that this council will bring together nearly all local coordinating committees and to also provide voice and representation for activists, across Syria:

The SRGC today announces the establishment of the ‘Revolutionary Council of the Syrian Revolution’ that represents both the highest authority in the SRGC and also a leadership body to all local committees and revolutionary councils of our free revolutionaries, including their revolutionary structures in all the Syrian provinces, with knowledge that the council is open to include all revolutionary activities  still working outside the framework of the Commission.

The communiqué further announces that the “coordination office began its first consultations, after a mandate given by the Revolutionary Council, in order to form a National Council, which will be announced in the next few days, God willing”

It is not clear what the broad objectives of this National Council will be and if they are supportive of a possible coordination and unification of efforts with Burhan Ghalioun’s transitional council initiative. However, it seems SRGC are wary or even suspicious of opposition factions and individuals outside Syria, especially in their attempts to establish ‘national’ bodies that will seek to make crucial decisions regarding the future of the country, in an envisaged transitional stage.

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